Monday, February 27, 2023

That train derailment story you've heard about

Happy belated b'day - Dad as I like to remember him
Here in the Buckeye State, we've been hearing about the train derailment in East Palestine for weeks now.  Long and short, someone goofed.  It is a story because following the derailment, it was stated that no hazardous chemicals were present.  So they came in an initiated a burn to eliminate the spillage. Problem?  Obviously there were hazardous materials, and now they're - everywhere. 

I'll let the lawyers and the politicians work it out.  For me, I can't figure out how they got it so wrong.  As you all know, my dad was a railroad engineer.  I used to know quite a lot about about trains since they're trains.  And every kid (and many adults) loves trains.  Even if he didn't 'live the train culture' (it was merely a job to him), he would always tell me what I wanted to know about the railroad.  And I listened when he talked to mom.  A few times over the years he let me ride with him on the engine (and once on a caboose - fun stuff!  Think an RV on rails).  When I was in college, he even let me try my hand with running one, albeit in a small local train yard at about 5mph and no cars attached.  

Now, trains are actually a delicate thing.  Yes, they're big and scary.  But the whole thing is a masterclass in physics.  For instance, the balance of wheels on rails is a precarious one.  Almost no train in the history of trains ever derailed because it hit something like a car or truck.  The actual collision is not the problem.  The reason why you'll see a derailment connected to a crossing accident is that a piece of the torn up vehicle became wedged between the wheels and rail, bending the rail out, and leading to the cars or engines jumping the track. 

Like flying, starting and stopping is the most dangerous part.  Start the train wrong, and you could tear a car in half.  Stop it wrong and some of the cars may not get the memo in time, resulting in a pile up.  And of course, derailments are always a concern, from start to finish and in between.  

I've heard on the news about some overheated bearings causing the derailment.  That could be.  Though how they missed it I don't know.  That's called a hot box, and railroads have 'hot box detectors' up and down the lines.  That was one of the more irksome parts of the job IIRC.  It wasn't unusual for a detector to trip even if there was nothing there.  Nonetheless, each time it did, the train had to stop and someone (the engineer being the boss of the train crew, it usually wasn't my dad) had to walk the length of the train to see what happened.  

That's often how things on the railroad work, by the way.  If there is a problem with the detector, it triggers.  Like railroad crossing lights, they're set to go off if there are any problems.  So even if there was a problem with this detector, it should have triggered.  I'd think the technology is even more advanced now then back in the day.

So no clue how that could cause the derailment unless someone messed up royally somewhere.  

As for the lack of knowledge about the cargo, that's unbelievable.  Each train car my dad hauled was on a list containing all the needed specs.  Some trains were special trains made up for specific cargos.  The ones with anything more dangerous than sponges had special information attached.  On the lines through Ohio my dad worked on, one of the trains was affectionally called 'The Bomb.'  About 100 of 150 cars or so of explosive and hazardous liquids. Not only were the materials an issue, but hauling them wasn't easy.  Tank cars in general were tough to control.  If you've ever carried a large container of liquid that began sloshing back and forth, you know why.  Imagine a 30 ton car with tens of thousands of gallons that begin sloshing back and forth if not controlled.  Then imagine dozens of such cars sloshing at different rates.  

That's why the safety protocols around such loads were Himalayan in scope.  And not just the train crew, but the various railroad yards and stations, and all locations the train would travel through were made aware.

How with all of that the response was 'Gee, we didn't think there were hazardous chemicals' just doesn't sound real. What actually happened and why I don't know.  But that's why this is becoming a news story even on international news.  Mixed with continuing 'nothing to see here folks' in the face of citizens developing all manner of ailments, the whole thing stinks to high heaven. 

Oh, and one shout out.  Do engineers and train crews a favor and don't try to beat trains at railroad crossings.  It's stressful for them since there's little they can do but watch.  Even though my dad had learned how to mitigate damage at crossings, if someone darted in front of him at the last, he couldn't do anything.  Remember, rule of thumb: It usually takes the length of the train to stop, and some trains can be over a mile long.  All accidents were stressful, even though he was seldom in danger (gasoline tank trucks being an exception, and the bogeyman of railroad engine crews).  When the accidents were fatalities, it always weighed on him.   The worst I recall was a car with four women leaving a party who at the last minute darted around the crossing gates. All four were killed instantly.  It was the only time I remember Dad having to take time off from work.  So next time, just wait a couple minutes.  Nothing is so important as to not make it to where you're going. 

Results are almost always the same

BTW, just for fun, the worst cargo to haul per my dad?  Plastic pellets.  That's because there was no air between those things and it was 100% dead weight, to the tune of hundreds of tons.  That's a car that needed TLC or you could have those torn up derailed trains pretty fast. 

Friday, February 24, 2023

What were they thinking? The greatest cinematic dumpster fires ideas ever

When I put out a list of things, I never pretend the list is definitive.  I understand opinions and one man's trash is another man's art.  But I defy anyone to argue that the following movies don't deserve to be called among the worst ideas ever.  

These aren't the worst movies.  Roger Ebert once said that he hated to give bad reviews.  Just the mammoth effort that goes into even the worst movie should be worth a C+.  Nonetheless, bad movies are made.  Movies that perhaps should have been good.  Or movies that looked good on paper, but not in the delivery.  Or movies that had potential, but a bad director, bad editing or bad production or performances torpedoed the poor thing. 

The following list, however, is not that. This is not a 'worst movies ever' list. This is a "what the heck were they thinking?" list.  These are movies that you could stop a random five year old and ask if they were a good idea and the five year old would know better.  They are ideas that no sane person ever should have thought would work.  And yet here they are.  In many cases, they  were produced by people at the top of their game.  Yet their only place in history is a cautionary tale for anyone taking up a camera. 

In no particular order (except the last): 

The Dungeons and Dragons Movie 

Poor D&D.  On the 25th Anniversary of its publication, many news outlets ran stories about its history and its influence.  Big players from Hollywood celebs to corporate leaders in the tech industry spoke of its influence on everything fantasy/sci-fi that has come since.  From video game basics to the influence on fantasy publications today, it's not hard to argue that D&D is one of the most influential cultural outputs of the last 50 years. 

It's also one of the most maligned.  Initially when I heard about it in high school, it was no different than Pac Man or Trivial Pursuit as fads go.  But somewhere that changed, and by the late 80s the whole D&D genre was a cultural pariah.  To play D&D was to ensure lonely Friday nights.  

So the announcement that D&D would be getting the Hollywood big budge treatment had to be good news for that subculture of D&D RPGers.  And boy were they disappointed.  What a train wreck. Celebrated actor Jeremy Irons was brought in as a ringer to be that Alec Guinness heft for a movie filled with mostly less known to minor actors.  I'm not sure his reputation has entirely recovered. 

What landed on the big screen was almost a parody.  Ed Wood could have done better.  It was cheap and bad and excruciating to watch.  I caught it on a streaming service a few years ago and tried to watch it, and I couldn't.  It was so bad it was embarrassing.  When you feel ashamed for the actors, you know it's bad.  Again, most who were in it I've not seen since, except Jeremy Irons.  And his appearance is still wrapped up with his scenery gorging over the top performance.  

Of all the movies on this list, I admit this didn't have to be a bad idea from the start.  But the minute they saw the plans, the actual screenplay, they should have pulled the ripcord and waited for something better.  

The general fan reaction to the movie


If ever something defined cultural fad, it was The Monkees.  Seizing upon the Beatles revolution, The Monkees were meant to target that demographic of young girls who were watching their mop top Beatles mature and embrace a more adult, and more psychedelic, direction. 

Enter the TV show The Monkees.  Charming and likeable and 'too busy singing to put anybody down', they were a fine way to kill a half hour beginning in 1966.  Because they portrayed a fictional rock group living in California, they had to have music.  And the army of talent enlisted to write and play Monkees songs was impressive.  The problem was, the band was made of actors playing musicians (though two were actual folk musicians in their own right).  The albums featured the Monkees singing, but professional songwriters and musicians were playing and writing the songs. That was the difference: the studio marketed them as an actual self contained music group in the manner of the Stones or Beatles.  Think Milli Vanilli for the 1960s.  That, and a general weakness of premise, helped put an end to Monkee-mania barely two years into the project.

Not to die out too soon, however, the 'band' rallied its resources, and with funding from - of all people - Jack Nicholson, attempted to slow their failing fortunes by producing their own film, ala Beatles style: Head.  If you've never seen it, don't worry, you're not alone. Rather than save the Monkees brand, it all but sealed the deal.  Peter Tork left shortly after, and soon after that went Michael Nesmith.  Instead of being their big comeback, all that Head became - for those few who have heard of it - was a cautionary tale.  Sometimes it's best to let a dying premise die. 

Battlefield Earth 

John Travolta has certainly had an up and down career.  He became an overnight success as dimwitted Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back Kotter.  Then he starred in the defining Disco moment of the Disco era: Saturday Night Fever.  The very next year he scored box office gold in the big screen version of Grease.   Then that was that.  He made some good and stinker films over the next few years.  Some good, others not so good.  Some downright embarrassing. Urban Cowboy was passable.  Look Who's Talking was cute.  But those were bright spots among forgotten films and shameful flops.  

Then came Pulp Fiction.  Playing the dancing hit man Vince Vega put him back at the top of his game.  His and Uma Thurman's iconic dance became the talk of the town.  Suddenly he was in the driver's seat again.  For the next few years, he had clout and influence. So what did he use it for?  The 2000 release of - Battlefield Earth

Battlefield Earth is fiction written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.  I have no clue.  I just know when Travolta brought the vision to the screen, everyone cringed.  It was that mortifying.  By just looking at the screenshots you could see the words plastered across the images: Stinker.  And it was.  It went beyond maligned and panned to being outright mocked to the level of meme. It was also so bad you know it had to be that bad from the beginning.  Consider the source material. 

Whatever momentum he received from Pulp Fiction was quickly squandered, and very few of his subsequent films made more impact than Staying Alive.  

In fairness to Travolta, something a little less embarrassing (remember, Travolta was not a dancer, but had to learn to dance for his role as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever):

Leonard Part 6

In the early 1990s, Bill Cosby was one of the undisputed power players in America.  Already successful on many fronts, Cosby's titular sitcom was one of the biggest shows in television history.  Cosby was 

also an activist.  He used his influence to bring black culture into the American mainstream, while showing black culture does not have to mean hood and ghetto.  He was also partly responsible for the mythology of MLK, even using an episode in his show as a platform to lift the March on Washington and the MLK legacy to almost deific levels. 

By the late 80s and early 90s, Cosby became the fist celebrity to overtake Paul McCartney as the wealthiest entertainer in the world.  Immensely powerful, wealthy beyond imagining, and universally respected, Cosby was a man who could snap his fingers and get anything he wanted.  

So what did he want?  To do some weird space action farce called Leonard, Part 6.  I really can't speak to this since I've never met anyone who saw it.  Even in its day it was mocked as the movie that had smaller audiences than the number in its title.  A joke from conception, it screamed 'This?  This is what you cashed your credentials in to make?'  It didn't destroy Cosby, but it sure tarnished his reputation as a creative force.  Other strategically placed tarnishings on other fronts would come around the corner down the road.  But the first chinks in the Cosby armor began in empty theaters across America under the marquee promoting Leonard, Part 6

Magical Mystery Tour

The Beatles.  The biggest pop culture phenomenon in the world of modern entertainment. Their accomplishments and accolades read like a treatise on the wildest dreams of any entertainer in the last hundred years.  I needn't list the celebrated accomplishments of their meteoric career.  They are too well known to list here.  

Truth be told, however, The Beatles as culture changing, music altering, industry reforming, creative juggernauts existed mostly in the first years of their ascent.  From late 1962 to the release of their magnum opus Sgt. Pepper in 1967, their accomplishments and the evolution of culture, music, fashion, attitudes, art, and the recording industry in the 1960s were practically one and the same.  It is likely no coincidence, however, that this began to wane upon the death of their manger Brian Epstein.  While many dismissed him by that point as irrelevant next to the monstrous success and influence of the band, in hindsight one has to wonder just how important he was to their creative output.

That's because the first thing they did following his untimely death was produce the made for television movie Magical Mystery Tour.  Improvisation was the idea, and it was mostly Paul at the helm.  The plan was to fill a bus with actors, musicians, friends, circus performers, and anyone else available, then film whatever happened.  Sadly, nothing did.  It was a bomb from the get go, fans recoiled and critics pounced.  It was the first major creative blunder of their brief yet remarkable career.  It also showed the world that The Beatles, in the end, were not infallible.  As a bonus, it's a lesson for all involved in creative endeavors: sometimes your best friend is that restraining factor you rail against the most before you have unchecked power. 

Paul takes charge, and the others' enthusiasm shows it

Howard the duck  

I believe the first major cinematic foray into the Marvel Universe if you think on it.  Even after the less than stellar Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, George Lucas, along with Steven Spielberg, was considered one of the wonder boys of Hollywood.  He was seen as a filmmaking Midas, who turned to gold anything he touched.  Following the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a film critic once boasted that Spielberg and Lucas could make  a movie about dirt and it would turn to magic.

No instrument invented can measure the creepiness of this
So naturally Lucas decided to focus his energy and attention on a big screen release of - Howard the Duck.  You know.  Howard the Duck.  Not being a comic book fan, I was only vaguely aware that the character existed.  How many of my friends were aware of Mr. Howard is beyond me, since not once in my entire childhood or youth did the topic come up.  And that is no doubt part of the problem.  The other part being the movie itself, which seemed to fail on almost every level that a movie can possible fail. 

Another part worth mentioning, BTW, was the actual Howard the Duck.  A teched up pseudo-puppet monstrosity.  Just look at it.  The scenes between the duck and Lea Thompson are almost violating in their creepiness. 

When she was interviewed some time later by Jay Leno, he asked Lea Thompson what she was thinking taking the role.  She admitted that in hindsight she wondered why she did it.  In response, Leno stated the final summation for the film and its impact on the world of entertainment: 'Don't worry, nobody saw it.'

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

That's right, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - the movie!   Sgt. Pepper is The Beatles' claim to legend. For decades it has been considered, if not the single greatest album of all time,  the single most influential album of all time.  It created an immediate shift in the whole business of the music industry.  It also represented the zenith of The Beatles' push to make the recording industry itself into an art form.  Wildly successful and culturally influential, it isn't their best album, but in terms of impact, it is to music what Citizen Kane is to movies.  

So what do you do about that? You make a Disco era feature film, loosely based on it, starring the Bee Gees!  In fairness, by the late 1970s, the BGs were mighty successful in their own right.  At the height of their success, riding the wave of that other 1977 hit Saturday Night Fever, many thought they could overtake The Beatles themselves.  Initially a Broadway show, the movie concept was heavily supported and financed by Peter Frampton, who himself was coming off the most successful live album to date. 

From Steve Martin and Donald Pleasance to Alice Cooper and Peter Frampton, from Carol Channing to Wolfman Jack, the project was a who's who of 70s cultural fads and icons. It was also a disaster.  Even though Universal Studios hoped it would become that generation's Gone With the Wind, it was the opposite.  While making an acceptable amount at the box office, it was quickly panned.  Word of mouth caught up with it, and not a few believe careers were permanently damaged from being connected to this movie, especially Frampton's.  It didn't do the Bee Gees much good either.  It all but cemented them in the 'Disco culture' which covered the film like a bad suit.  Once Disco died in 1980, it took the Bee Gees with it.  When that's what people remember about your film, you can bet the idea was a bad one from the start. 

Yes, it was that bad.

The Star Wars Holiday Special 

The all time, grand slam, gold medal, blue ribbon cinematic disaster in all of movie history.  George Lucas insists he never even heard of the movie.  According to him, he was almost shocked to see it on television when it debuted.  The problem is, Lucas is not one to trust when it comes to his version of history.  Remember a decade or so ago when he lambasted fans who insist Han shot first in the original Star Wars theatrical release?  As if there aren't millions of copies of the original for us to look at to see Han clearly shot first. In fact, he's the only one who shot.  When you believe being a billionaire gives you the right to redefine reality, your memories are not to be trusted.

I have no doubt that Lucas was not involved in the day-to-day production of this mess. But by 1978, the monster success of Star Wars as a bona fide global phenomenon put Lucas in the driver's seat when it came to the brand's usage.  Based on those in the know brave enough to say so over the years, he was aware of the project, understood the context in which it would be produced, and even continued to give it a thumbs up during production.  Yet given what happened on that fateful November night in 1978 when it aired, I can see why he would want to distance himself. 

I mean, what do you do when confronted by a horror like this:

My generation, and almost any kid under the age of 40 at that time, sat glued to the TV that night.  Remember, no DVDs, no VCRs, no streaming services.  Even though Star Wars lasted in some theaters for over  year, we knew once it was gone, it was gone.  So we were elated to hear that a sequel was going to be released - and on television no less!  Oh the joy, the excitement!  We couldn't wait.

To this day I remember the reaction among the kids on the next day at school.  In our class, we sat at tables of six, made up by having our desks all grouped together with three facing three.  I believe we just sat there and said nothing. If I remember correctly, we almost felt embarrassed for having wasted a valuable night of our lives watching such a thing.  

Again, Lucas insists he was a million miles away from this heap of dung.  I have no doubt he wasn't involved in much of the nitty gritty.  But in 1978, I also know he was aware, and aware enough to deserve some of the blame.  Given later ventures of his (see Howard the Duck above and the Star Wars Prequels), it becomes even easier to believe he was more involved in this than he will ever admit. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Because fighting racism is not the point


The destruction of the Christian Western democratic traditions is the point.  Using racism when convenient is simply one of many avenues taken to achieve that goal. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Actually it's a stupid point Mr. Annett


The fact is, what Stein said had nothing to do with Annett's point.  Stein is trying to deconstruct the positive influence of the Gospel, as well as using the sins of Christians to dismiss the historical contributions of the Christian Faith. Contributions that were still taught as late as the 1980s when I attended a state university and learned from decidedly not-Christian professors.  That Christians may have raped teddy bears is irrelevant to the role that the Christian Gospel had in revolutionizing the world's attitude about a host of issues, including the worth of the poor, the meek and the sanctity of human life.  Mr. Annett should have reiterated that valid point. 

Instead, Mr. Annett reminds me of the type of person I don't want by my side if I have to charge into battle.  Children of the Christian West have made acquiescence, surrender, compromise, and cowering before opposition our generational trademark.  We have focused so much on the sins of our ancestors, we'd rather let Moloch eat our children than take the chance on being as horrible as those reprehensible old timers in their defense.  We see that in the tens of millions of aborted pregnancies.  We see it in the staggering suicide, homicide and drug overdose rates among our youth.  We see it as our society goes from 'nobody will ever change a minor's body' to proudly declaring the goal of changing our children's bodies - consequences be damned - and parents can head to the cornfield if they don't like it.  

All of these developments are the result of those like Mr. Annett who, when met with a clear attack on the unique heritage of our Faith and the positives of its inheritance, is happy to charge forth with white flag waving.  I don't know if it's cowardice or a lack of belief.  I just know there comes a time when what we call virtue is merely cowardice with a Jesus mask.  

Saturday, February 18, 2023

This was an actual show when I was young

Which explains a lot.  I don't know why this showed up on one of my Facebook pages.  I did watch it some, tripped out though it was.  Even as a kid I got the strange feeling that there was some hidden meaning behind parts of the writing.  

They filmed some of the intro in Cincinnati, though it wasn't Kings Island.  Kings Island didn't open until 1972 (the Brady Bunch actually filmed a special episode around its opening).  Nonetheless, as a kid who must have seen it in reruns, I assumed King Island, which was a connection in my mind. 

It had different side-segments throughout each episode.  One was the Arabian Nights, and another show featuring who I later learned was Jan Michael Vincent.  I also remember some crude live action/animation skit around Tom Sawyer and the gang. I recall the late Ted Cassidy was Injun Joe, though in cartoon form (its likeness to him was apparent). I think that was actually a different show that was interspersed with the Banana Splits.  We won't discuss the Sour Grapes Bunch. 

Other than that, don't remember much about it, except the continued pesky impression I had that I was missing something behind the jokes.  Anyway, here is the opening theme which I admit was quite catchy, and I can still hum along with it all these years later: 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

The New York Times priority

Skin color.  It's all about skin color, or anything that can pit as many Americans against each other as possible.  

In this case, it goes after that most underrepresented group in the NFL - African Americans.  At least in terms of winning quarterbacks I guess?  Are they saying something about the talent level of African American quarterbacks?  

I doubt it.  At this point you aren't supposed to think it through.  You're supposed to react as if you're a donkey hit by a whip.  It says Black yadda yadda, and Super Bowls, more yadda yadda.  And naturally you respond: Racism!

I don't know what is the most shocking thing today.  That our institutions have become so corrupted towards such dark purposes, or that Americans were stupid enough to play along.  Either or, things are happening fast now.  Like it or not, we're entering a new age.  

Whatever betide, you have come to the end of the Gondor that you have known.  

                                                                                                JRR Tolkien, The Return of the King 

BTW, that the media was already beginning to hype the 'two black quarterbacks!' narrative before the results of the final playoffs, and that once again a key game was ended with a questionable call from the refs, reminds me of my old saying.  Sometimes it takes more credulity to disbelieve a conspiracy theory than to believe in one. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

A very Catholic movie?

I wonder.  Over at John C. Wright's blog, he posts a reader who argues that it is.  Yes, it had some pretty obvious Christian imagery.  That doesn't always mean something is filled to the brim with Gospel messaging.  

It wouldn't  surprise me if it was.  Even if Europe and the West were quickly shedding their beliefs in the Christian Faith by the 20th Century, it was still there.  And if belief in the religious message wasn't there, you could still find value in the Faith's teachings and symbolism.

Plus, you have to watch out.  Even if it wasn't steeped in Catholic meaning, that doesn't mean it was some communist socialist agitprop, as I've at times heard it (and other things) described.  In any event, it has been a long time since I watched it.  I'll have to go back and watch it.  The last time I saw it the boys were much younger, but all agreed it lived up to the hype. 

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Uh oh

Looks like that ad campaign you might have seen, the "He Gets Us" campaign about Jesus, is going to show on the Superbowl.  CNN has the scoop here

What's the problem?  Apparently the donors and individuals behind the campaign might not be leftists, that's what.  It's a Jesus that might not be in full lockstep with the Left.  Sure, some of the ads have shown Jesus as an immigrant, an oppressed refugee, a women's rights activists, a social rebel, and that's all fine and good.

And the ad for the Superbowl might not even aim anywhere close to below the waistline or any such cherished avenue for the Left.  And yet, we find they might be evangelicals.  They might be conservative.  They might not think like those on  the left demand they think, especially about sex stuff.  

And we all know Christians are seen by so many as hypocritical, judgmental and discriminatory.  Says so right there in the article. That's unlike the good people complaining who obviously just want people to think the way they think or else.  

Yeah.  It's that nauseating.  In a world in which something called journalism existed, the naked hypocrisy displayed in the article, as well as the obvious lies about diversity and inclusion, would be front page news.  As it is, they can actually say with a straight face that they are merely against the hate that demonstrates itself by failing to conform to leftist tolerance.  

UPDATE:  In case you cared, here is some web news thing that talks of this - from a clearly anti-Christian perspective.  Some of the Twitter posts it chooses to display are funny,  but also telling.  

It makes you wonder

Knowing little about Star Trek of any generation, and far less about The Love Boat, I would have to see some confirmation on this.  If true, you must admit, someone was inspired by someone, or it's typical Hollywood in a weird way.  


Friday, February 10, 2023


L-R: Thief, hacker, hitter, grifter, mastermind
I've said before that if my life depended on naming three modern television shows I'd be a gonner.  We don't watch much current programming, either aimed at kids or adults.  Most of our fare comes from pre-70s television, with a smattering of later shows (MASH or Monk for example) that the kids have picked up.  For my wife and I, we'll reminisce around a viewing of Magnum PI, or Simon and Simon.  But that's about it.  We don't watch much television anyway, preferring movies on DVD or even VCR - a subversive approach to be sure. 

The most 'modern' show we started watching is a show called The Librarians, and its predecessor Leverage.  I say predecessor, not because the show has anything to do with The Librarians, but because many of the same individuals were involved in both productions. 

Basically Leverage is a 21st Century reimagining of the old A-Team show.  That is, a bunch of world class outlaw mercenaries band together to help the little guy.  The premise is that the main 'mastermind' (played by lawsuit wielding Timothy Hutton) lost his son when the insurance company he worked for refused to pay for the child's experimental medical treatments.  As an internationally successful executive, he was able to pull his resources to right similar wrongs made against others. 

The band is a 'Robin Hood' gang of outlaws: The honest guy mastermind trying to right the wrongs done to little people (and avoid becoming as bad as the corruption he fights), the thief (a mentally unbalanced super-thief with nerves of steel and no self-censorship), the grifter (a terrible actress wannabe who nonetheless shines when deceiving people with her acting), the hacker (who is what every hacker dreams hacking computers could be), and the hitter (that is, hit man and assassin - the darkest character of the bunch, but also the most sensitive to others, especially vulnerable people and children). The whole show centers around your typical 'bad guys make better good guys' theme. 

There was one episode in this series I admit is pure enjoyment.  It follows the 'Rashomon' storyline. It is named "The Rashomon Job" just to drive the point home.  I touched on another famous example of this plotline some time ago here.  Named after a Kurosawa movie that some say popularized that type of plot, it's when multiple people relay their version of an event, and you see how radically different each one sees things.  

In this case, they are reminiscing about the five year old robbery of a priceless Middle Eastern dagger from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.  Each one claims to have stolen it, only to have lost it again.  As the accounts unfold, it turns out they were all there together vying for the same prize, but back before they knew each other.  The fun part is when each character is 'revealed' by the next person's version.  So in the first account, the 'grifter' tells of running into a handsome young doctor who was charming and quite attractive to her.  Only when the 'hitter (hit man)' tells his tale does she realize the doctor was him in disguise (remember, they didn't know each other).

It's cleverly done, and allows the characters to take potshots at each other as they saw themselves in the best light, while the others didn't.  For instance, the 'hacker' saw himself surrounded by dozens of adoring women, hanging on his every word.  But when the 'thief' tells her version, he's simply a bumbling computer hacker in a tux with a few nearby women rolling their eyes then walking away.

Standard for this storyline.  But there was one interesting difference.  In each account, the museum's head of security is seen as a major threat.  He's mean, he's all business, he takes no prisoners.  And each character has to dodge, avoid, or somehow escape his bulldog tenacity while he's guarding this precious artifact. 

Until the reveal.  The reveal is the point in this type of story where the 'reliable' witness finally stands up and explains 'what really happened.' In the All in the Family episode, it was honest Edith Bunker who set the record straight.  In this episode of Leverage, it was Timothy Hutton's character.

Naturally he sees everything from a different point of view - supposedly the correct one.  But when it comes to the security chief, he shows they were not only wrong, but all wrong the same way.  It turns out the security chief's stalking the hallways, barging into rooms, and accosting the different characters, was not because he  was this ruthless force to be reckoned with.

Nope.  Turns out he was a guy with a middle aged crush on the 'grifter's' disguised character (she disguised herself as a scientist working in the antiquities department). He was just trying to ask her out.  That doesn't mean he was a buffoon.  Quite the contrary, his character helped wrap things up in the end and save the day.  But each time he confronted one of the characters, he was merely trying to work up the courage to ask the young woman out on a date (and failing miserably).  

The dialogue was pretty much the same - and that was the brilliance of the writing.  Its merely changed context.  So when he barked at the 'hacker' that 'This job is his life!' (hence he will not fail to capture the perpetrators), in the 'reveal', he laments that 'This job is his life' - which is why he's so lonely.  It was a clever take that most such storylines don't have.  Usually they simply change the dialogue, along with everything else, to fit the version.  In the All in the Family version for instance, Archie sees Ron Glass  (complete with five foot afro) whip out a switchblade and say 'Black is beautiful baby', while Mike's version has the same character saying no such thing, but instead cowering and begging forgiveness from Mr. Bunker in his best Uncle Tom manner.  

Version #1: The grifter nervously avoids security's questions
But the part that hit me was that unlike the usual approach, where almost everything is seen differently by different characters, all of them saw security the same, dialogue and all: They all saw him as a threat (kudos to the actor for being intimidating in most of the episode, then the lost and helpless romantic beat puppy in the final reveal). Except for Timothy Hutton of course.  

When we watched this, my sons brought up an interesting point.  No doubt it was the point intended by the show's writers.  That is, Timothy Hutton's character is supposedly 'the honest one', working with all these thieves, con artists and mercenaries for the greater good.  Thus he sees things as they are.  The others, all dishonest and crooked in some way or another, saw things as dishonest people see things.  And we all know when a person is a thief, they assume everyone else is as well. Or at least they see the world as divided into victims and authorities.  Which is how they saw the security chief.  Being dishonest, they all saw him as a threat.  Because being robbers and crooks, that's how they measure things.  While the honest man saw him as the well meaning, if not awkward, museum security that he was. 

And that got me to thinking, as I am wont to do. Let's face it, how we see others sometimes says more about us than about those we see. When I've taught history in the past, I said the history you read will often tell you more about the historian than the history you're reading.  Same with many things. Sometimes the way we see others speaks volumes for ourselves. 

For instance, we live in an age that has elevated bigotry, especially racial bigotry, to the top of all human evils.  As predicted, it is now far worse id a white man rapea and murdera a black woman than if he merely raped and murdered a white woman.  And slavery?  African to African slavery is no big thing, because not racist.  Nor Asian, pre-Columbian American, or any other slavery.  But when it's whites owning non-whites, that's when it hits the fan - because slavery is one thing, slavery based on certain skin colors is a whole new ballgame. 

It's not just racism, however.  It can be gender, sexuality, religion, you name it.  A month or so ago I saw a new story that men who  have sex with men made up the lion's share of new HIV cases last year.  Why?  Because of homophobic bigotry, that's why. What does that even mean?  It matters not.  What matters is bigotry.  

Yet, I wonder.  An age that sees in everything bigotry, prejudice, discrimination, even full on racism - could it be because the ones who see it this way are, in fact, the bigots?  I think on all those pro-feminist men who were all about fighting for women in the War on Women.  Yet how many of them during the #MeToo stampede fell under accusations of all manner of sexual misconduct - from mere harassment all the way to charges of attempted rape.  Some accusations apparently had merit, and the bulk of the high profile offenders were those men who were proud liberals all about supporting women.  Makes you wonder if their easiness in calling other men sexists was projection.

I think on that when I see the speed with which we not only throw 'Bigot' onto the court at the drop of a hat, but how those who do so see things.  When you insist you can always tell a racist by the color of her skin, you have to admit.  Or if you talk about certain groups, often your own, in ways we would consider to be bigotry if applied to others, it makes me wonder.  I mean, if you see nothing but bigotry everywhere, see bigotry in everything, and often talk about people as mere caricatures of various groups you are here to save or condemn in a manner you would consider bigotry if applied to those groups by others, is it possible that you're the real bigot in the room?   Perhaps that's why you see bigotry everywhere, since it's ultimately a mirror you're looking at?  Makes me wonder.  Don't think I don't. 

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Once more unto the breach!

OK, let's do it one more time, for clarity.  After all, there are tons of fun posts I'm itching to get to, I don't want to get mired in a debate I'm not really having.  So for clarity's sake, let me say I'm not attacking, nor necessarily blaming, capitalism for the hot mess we see.

I understand capitalism the same way I understand democracy.  That is, the best humanity has come up with - provided:  Provided there are safeguards and buttresses keeping it along the straight and narrow.  

We've seen that with democracy.  Democracy is a great way to do a country.  But we've also heard the old jab that democracy is the form of government that votes for Barabbas.  We've seen clearly that you can't wander into some other country and plop democracy on the table and expect it to work. We heirs of the Christian Western tradition are truly blessed in having so many of the elements that, having converged in time and space, made for the best humanity has been able to produce on this side of heaven.  

Same with Capitalism.  Compared to other historical options, capitalism stands head and shoulders above them all.  Yet clearly, like democracy, it won't work to have it and nothing else.  You need the same safeguards and bumper rails for capitalism like you do for democracy. 

Our problem is that we've been letting those safeguards (the myriad foundations inherited from the long history of the Christian Western tradition) be stripped away.  So it shouldn't surprise us that, just as we see an increasingly corrupted view of what democracy and freedom are all about, so we're also seeing the same corrupting of capitalist ideals.

The problem I noticed was that as this happened, conservatives dug their heals in and decided to defend corporate interests and corporate profits at all cost - in the name of defending capitalism.  Even when it was pretty clear that what corporations were doing was not beneficial for anything but the corporate interests - not beneficial for capitalism, democracy, the Christiaan West or anything conservatives should value - they would go to the mattresses to defend the right of the corporations to do anything. 

By doing that and, more to the point, doing it in the name of defending capitalism, we have generations coming up that see anything done by corporate interests, no matter how egregious or counter to the ideal results of capitalism, as what capitalism is all about.  My sons have said, listening to their peers, capitalism is now when vast corporate interests give as little, produce as little, and shaft as many people as possible, in order to line their own pockets.  

Conservative appeals to 'look what capitalism has done for us!' fall on deaf ears.  That's ancient history today.  Today, because so many things done by corporations were defended in the name of defending capitalism, people - especially young people - see capitalism chained with the good and bad and ugly, and increasingly little of the good.  

So that fellow I referenced who wrote a book  in order to save our youth from the terrors of post-gender manipulation.  Fair enough.  I've said the gender crazy of today was the eugenics of yesterday.  So an important book, by his insistence.  Yet when the interview came around to Amazon banning his book, he immediately deferred to the cherished ideal of capitalism and nothing else.  In the name of a corporation being free to do it's thing, he might not like what Amazon did, but by golly he would fight to the death Amazon's right to do it.  And so by his own admission, while saving our children is one thing, nothing is more important than running left tackle for corporate interests - and all in the name of defending capitalism.

Now, stand back and think how that looks to almost anyone under the age of thirty today.  And remember, no matter how we try to insist the 'bag of air for five bucks' joke we're seeing today is because of anything but capitalism, it happens while corporate CEOs and corporations rake in the big bucks.  It isn't like the Great Depression, where many a corporate executive took it in the throat along with the farmer and the steel worker.  This is where no matter how crappy the product, the service, the diminished quality, the slashed benefits, or the ruined little guy, those CEOs are making bank.  When this is defended in the name of defending capitalism, it is what more and more younger (and other) Americans see as the legacy of capitalism.

My advice, therefore, is that if we are going to defend capitalism - a good thing IMHO - then we must stop confusing defending bad, wrong, counterproductive, or anything else negative in the name of defending capitalism.  We should call those things out.  I'm not saying bring in the government, we need socialism, hail Karl Marx, or more regulations.  I'm saying call those things out as what they are, and insist they are antithetical to what capitalism is or should be. 

Just like a country that would vote for a terrorist should be called out in the name of saying that's not what democracy should be about. Shafting employees, diminishing quality, bilking the consumer, or just promoting evil, is not capitalism's selling point, nor should they be defended in the name of capitalism.

Especially since it isn't hard to see many corporate leaders appear to have diminishing concerns for both democracy and capitalism.  In fact, the cynic in me almost wonders if those corporate execs who seem fine warming up to more socialist and authoritarian sensitivities do what they do precisely to make the capitalist and freedom in the marketplace look bad.